Friends of Orford Bird Sanctuary

Updates from the Orford Bird Sanctuary

Weekly Shorebird Count

This monitoring had been conducted by Dr Nicky Meeson, Biodiversity Officer from Glamorgan Spring Bay Council. Nicky has now left the council so from 08/02/2022 onwards the weekly bird count is being done by one or more volunteers from the Friends of Orford Bird Sanctuary.

Note: This monitoring is only a count of the birds which are visible from the perimeter of the sanctuary, it isn't a comprehensive count of all the birds that maybe in the sanctuary at that time.

Latest count | Date: 12/02/2024 | Time: 9:15 - 9:45am | Tide: mid | Weather: partly cloudy
Australian Pied OystercatcherRed-capped PloverFairy TernAustralian PelicanBlack-faced CormorantCrested TernHoary-headed GrebeLittle-pied CormorantMasked LapwingSilver GullWhite-faced HeronWhite-fronted Chat
(inc 5 juveniles)
10 22
(inc 8 fledglings)
4 1 10 1 1 2 4 2 1

For previous counts see:
Weekly shorebird count from 25/07/2019 to present in table format
Orford Bird Sanctuary on Birdlife Australia, Birdata Portal

12th February 2024 - Fairy Tern Count

Todays bird count by three members of Friends of Orford Bird Sanctuary counted 22 Fairy Terns, 8 of which are fledglings.

Below are some Fairy Tern photos from todays bird count.

(Click on images for higher resolution)

Photos by Gary Whisson

30th January 2024 - Fairy Tern Census for Birdlife Australia - Final Count

Friends of Orford Bird Sanctuary participated in the final count for the Fairy Tern Census and below is their description.

"There has been a significant change in the colony since our last count a few weeks ago:

Firstly, the location of the colony has shifted to be much closer to the Raspins Beach side of the Spit. The original site (more or less centrally located at the southern end of the spit), which formed the primary nesting area, and was a hive of activity a few weeks ago, is now deserted.
This may have had something to do with the very high tides recently which inundated the fringes of the nesting colony (but they survived high tides earlier in the breeding season), or perhaps reflects a shift from prioritising nesting sites in the open, to an area with more vegetation and surface cover that chicks can hide in - just my speculation. Hopefully it is not disturbance related.

Our estimated number of adult birds (from counting the birds observed at more or less one time - so likely an underestimate) has dropped from over 50 individuals to closer to 40. We also observed 14 chicks, ranging from about a week old, to chicks that are close to fledging and occupied practicing their flying skills :-). Some adults looked like they could still be sitting on nests.
The drop in the number of adult birds may reflect the natural progression of birds whose chicks have already fledged and so the breeding season is over for them. Again, hopefully it doesn’t reflect the loss of nests, or disturbance."

(Click on images for higher resolution)

"A parent bird flying with a fish, attracting the attention of three chicks in the photograph. The third one is just to the right of the log in the foreground. These chicks look to be at least 3 weeks old, with well developed flight feathers. The fence just behind the ‘nesting’ site is at the southern end of the Raspins Beach Fence. So the location is very susceptible to people walking along the beach to the corner of the fence and along the sandbags in the foreground."

"An adult flying in past a young chick (just below and to the left) on the dune, with a parent bird at the base of the dune to the right. Contrast this terrain with the open bare shell covered sand occupied by the original nesting colony."

"An adult Tern (centre right) that appears to still be sitting on a nest hollowed out of the sand, tucked in next to a clump of seaweed - likely scattered by FOBS volunteers on this area of sand dredged from the channel after last years breeding season. This bird was photographed multiple times and didn’t move during the hour and a half that we were observing the site. A chick, likely just over 2 weeks old is sheltering next to the big log on the left side of the image."

"A parent bird sitting between two logs (centre), with a young (perhaps 2 week old) chick (centre right foreground) is not phased by a Hooded Plover wandering by (to the right). Raspins Beach Fence in the background.

Photos by Gary Whisson

18th January 2024 - Fairy Tern Colony Update

Two members from Friends of Orford Bird Sanctuary did a count at Fairy Tern Colony today.

Below is their description of the count:

"The adult bird count was at least 26 birds, but there are increasing numbers of chicks and a lot of birds flying in and out foraging so this does not represent a full census of the number of adult birds. Most likely it has stabilised at around the 50 plus birds.

We didn’t realise it at the time but looking at the photos, in higher definition on the computer screen, I recon we also have an image of an endangered Little Tern sitting in the colony….. See the bird on the left in the image below with the narrow black eyeline extending beyond the eye to the beak. The Chick in the centre of this image shows how fast some of the chicks are growing, and they have obviously been present earlier that we realised. Small chicks are very hard to spot if they are just crouching in the nest, or under the parent bird -there are a lot of birds sitting in what appears to be nests still. We estimated that we saw at least 10-12 chicks, likely a significant underestimate of actual numbers."

(Click on images for higher resolution)

"Clutch of 2 in this image."

"Three in this image - 2 to the right of the dead Marram grass tussock in the foreground and one at the edge of the Marram grass on the dune at the back. Slightly larger chicks are already wandering some distance from the nest, and hiding in the Marram Grass."

"A pair of larger chicks calling out as a parent bird flies in."

Photos by Gary Whisson

27th December 2023 - At least 48 Fairy Terns now at the Orford Bird Sanctuary

Photos by Gary Whisson

20th December 2023 - Fairy Terns at the Orford Bird Sanctuary

Photos by Gary Whisson

7th December 2023 - Fairy Tern Census

At the request of Birdlife Australia's Beach Nesting Birds Project, Friends of Orford Bird Sanctuary participated in a Fairy Tern Census at the Orford Bird Sanctuary. The census locations extend across Australia's eastern range of the Fairy Tern.

The survey at the Orford Bird Sanctuary on 07/12/2023 identified 20, or more, adult birds displaying colony establishing behaviour.

As part of the census a follow up survey is scheduled for 1-2nd February 2024.

Photos by Gary Whisson

August 2023 - Improvement to breeding area

Collaboration between Marine and Safety Tasmania (MAST), Friends of Orford Bird Sanctuary and the Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) has resulted in excess sand build-up dredged from the Prosser River mouth being distributed onto the end of the Raspins Beach sandspit (which forms part of the bird sanctuary) to help prevent this potential breeding area from being washed out by storm surges. This area is where the Fairy Terns had one of their most successful bredding seasons in 2020. Since that time the sand had progressively resettled resulting in a significant reduction in suitable breeding habitat.

The Friends of Orford Bird Sanctuary would like to thank MAST and their Contractors for the excellent work that they did in spreading the sand pumped from the Prosser River Channel onto the southern end of the Sandpit at the Orford Bird Sanctuary, raising this area above the intertidal zone and extending the area of potential shorebird nesting habitat.

With the endorsement of PWS and the GSB Council, the Friends of Orford Bird Sanctuary spread seaweed and some driftwood onto the more elevated areas of bare sand resulting from the pumping. These actions were designed to improve habitat texture, diversity and cover for feeding/nesting shorebirds. We were delighted to see the results attract Hooded and Red-necked Plovers before we had even finished spreading the seaweed.

Before - The smooth bare sand on the raised area where the pumped sand was deposited and spread - with our initial efforts in spreading seaweed visible to the right of the image.
After - Part of the raised area with seaweed increasing the surface texture and diversity. Before we had even finished spreading the seaweed a flock of 12 Hooded Plovers flew in landed on the sandbags and came across to explore and feed amongst the seaweed (11 in the image), along with two Red-capped Plovers.
Photos by Gary Whison

July 2023 - Final Orford Foreshore Master Plan endorsed by PWS

The Parks and Wildlife Service have now fully endorsed the Orford Foreshore Masterplan and made it publicly available. This means that action items identified in the plan can now be implemented as resources permit.
View the final, fully endorsed Orford Foreshore Master Plan

March 2023

Orford Bird Sanctuary article in Birdlife Tasmania Autumn 2023 Newsletter

October 2022 - Orford Foreshore Master Plan endorsed by GSBC

At the last meeting of the previous Glamorgan Spring Bay Council, on the 25/10/2022, the council voted to endorse the Orford Foreshore Masterplan as follows.

That Council:
1. Endorse the Orford Foreshore Masterplan in the form of Attachment 1.
2. Does not agree to enter into a lease/licence for the Prosser River Training Wall (sandbags), nor accept responsibility for any maintenance or management of this infrastructure.
3. Review the outcomes and time-frames on a regular basis with the aim to have the implementation of the management plan finalised within 5 years.

View the Council Approved Orford Foreshore Master Plan

June 2022 - Draft Orford Foreshore Master Plan

View the Draft Orford Foreshore Master Plan which has been commissioned by the Glamorgan Spring Bay Council and the Parks and Wildlife Service. The plan assesses and makes recommendations for the future management of the foreshore reserves from Raspins Beach to Millingtons Beach, including the Oford Bird Sanctuary.

View the Friends of Orford Bird Sanctuary's response to the Draft Orford Foreshore Master Plan

October 2021 - Master Plan for the Management of the Prosser River Foreshore Reserve and Orford Bird Sanctuary

Consultants, Inspiring Place, in conjunction with North Barker, have been engaged by Glamorgan Spring Bay Council and the Parks and Wildlife Service to prepare a Master Plan for the management of the Prosser River foreshore reserve and the Orford Bird Sanctuary. Recently they visited the Sanctuary with Dr Eric Woehler, Convenor of Birdlife Tasmania, to gain expert insight into the complexities of this Important Bird Area!

October 2021

Spring time here has seen the appearance of a Red Necked Stint, two Caspian Terns, and a start to breeding by Hooded Plovers, Red Capped Plovers and Pied Oyster Catchers! Two pairs of Fairy Terns have also been spotted.

Pied Oyster Catcher and chicks 28/11/2020

Spring 2020

October has seen the start of the breeding season for the Red Cap Plovers, Hooded Plovers and Pied Oyster Catchers here at the Orford Bird Sanctuar.

One of the council's NRM officers has been putting up temporary fences around each nest / nest area in an attempt to keep the nests safe from wandering humans. Additional temporary signs have also been in place since the start of spring.

Two to three Fairy Terns have been seen flying around on a number of occasions.

The first chicks to be seen in the open were two to three Red Cap Plovers in October, followed by a few Hoodies in early November. Some Piedys have been nesting here since October but the fisrt chicks to be seen in the open appeared on the 28/11/2020.

5th August 2020

Review of the Community Consultation and Recommendations regarding the Proposed Management Plan for the Orford Bird Sanctuary

If above link doesn't work, use this one.

February 2020

Report, including stunning photography, by Elaine McDonald and Penny Geard on the Fairy Tern breeding colony at the Orford Bird Sanctuary during January and February 2020. Orford Fairy Tern Colony - Breeding season 2020.pdf

Update From Dr Eric Woehler - 13/02/2020

I visited the colony yesterday afternoon to survey the breeding Fairy Terns. I am delighted to report that 34 chicks and fledged juveniles were observed. This total comprised approximately 20 chicks that were too young to fly, and at least 14 flying juveniles that had successfully fledged but were still in attendance at the colony. The colony was very busy and very noisy, with foraging adults feeding chicks predominantly inside the eastern extent of the fenced area and on the adjacent foreshore. Foraging trips by the adults were from both the backwater and from the bay east of the colony.

On two occasions, boats with fishers on board entered the channel - all roosting Fairy Terns and Crested Terns immediately flew off the bags - any claims that the terns 'tolerate' these events are baseless and easily refuted.

An estimated 26 adults were in view, in the colony and feeding chicks. Thus, on 13 Feb 2020, a total of 60 Fairy Terns were observed (26 adults and 34 chicks and juveniles). This is the most successful this colony has been for more than a decade.

Photo © Eric J Woehler
Fairy and Crested Terns flying off the bags in response to a boat with fishers entering the channel. The boat's wake can be seen in the water.
Photo © Eric J Woehler
Adult fairy tern departing after feeding its chick a large fish - the chick is immediately under the flying adult with the fish in its bill.
Photo © Eric J Woehler
Two adults and six chicks/juveniles on foreshore. One fledged juvenile can be seen flying.

I would encourage Council to maintain the fence and protective measures around this critical shorebird and small tern site that is internationally recognised for its contribution to the conservation of global biodiversity as an Important Bird Area.

Obfuscation by residents raising "concerns" about high tides are designed to introduce doubt in Councillor's minds. The colony's success undermines the various claims by fence opponents.

I remain open to discussions with Councillors who wish to protect the site.


January 2020

Little Tern © Eric J Woehler

Update From Dr Eric Woehler - 21/01/2020

A CRITICAL update to the Fairy Tern colony status at the Orford Bird Sanctuary following my second visit to the site today.

I visited the colony this morning (21 Jan 20 08:13 - 09:15 AEDST) and there were at least 25 adult birds sitting on nests - either incubating eggs or brooding very small chicks. At least another 20 birds were observed returning to the colony to feed partners and chicks.

Many adults were observed feeding in the backwater - more so than in the bay east of the Spit. Clearly, the backwater remains a critical feeding site for the nesting terns.

At least 6 chicks of various sizes were observed running around the colony being fed by adults during our visit.

I believe that there are still close to 30 active nests present in the Sanctuary - comprising incubating and brooding nests with sitting adults, and nests whose chicks have started to roam in the vicinity of the nest/territory.

Remarkably, at least one Little Tern (Critically Endangered) was observed in the colony - its behaviour strongly suggested breeding but I could not see its partner or its nest. If breeding, this is only the 3rd known breeding pair for this species in Tasmania this season (the other pairs are on King Island and Cape Barren Island).

The presence of the Little Tern increases the conservation significance of the colony dramatically. This is the only known instance of Little Terns breeding on the Tasmanian mainland this season - a remarkable observation. I have attached a picture of the Little Tern.

I strongly urge Council to reject any proposal for removing the fence around this colony. The colony's conservation status is increasing and is of national and international significance. The selfish wishes of a handful of locals is no basis for the loss of this site of International conservation significance.